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‘Success’ and online political participation: The case of Downing Street E-petitions

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E-petitions are one of the most widely used and popular E-democracy tools. While hundreds of thousands of E-petitions are created around the world each year, and they receive millions of signatures, critics lament their limited impact on policy and the encouragement of ‘slacktivism’. This raises an interesting question that this article seeks to address: if they have limited policy impact, why do people bother to create and sign E-petitions? To address this question, this article focuses on how participants define and measure ‘success’. Understanding how citizens perceive the success of political participation is crucially important to the evaluation of democratic innovation and our broader understanding of democratic vitality. Focusing on one of the most famous and quantitatively successful systems to date, Downing Street E-petitions, this article seeks to understand the different ways in which participants perceived the ‘success’ of their petition and how the government communicated with them through its official reply. This article finds that people cite a wide range of benefits from their E-petition, and that they have a nuanced approach to considering ‘success’ that is not captured by traditional measures. However, many users were upset with official replies, and this undermined some of the broader impacts. The findings have important implications for how online democratic innovations are designed and institutionalized.
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Keywords: E-democracy; E-petitions; democratic innovations; direct representation; political communication; slactivism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: June 2, 2016

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